Brands have long understood the power of music to create emotional connections. As such, music is second only to sports in terms of sponsorship spending. Here is part one of our sponsorship trends in the music space.
While the live concert segment is still growing, there are signs that the massive summer festival is losing some of its appeal: Bonnaroo in Tennessee had a drop of 38% in attendance in 2016, while the Sasquatch! Festival in Washington State saw a 50% reduction of concertgoers. FYF’s downfall is also raising concerns about the health of the big music event. A 2016 study of the UK festival industry has predicted that “ever-increasing security and infrastructure costs and tough competition for ticket sales” will lead more than 10% of events to fold.
Consolidations might also be hurting the festival business. Pitchfork studied large event lineups between 2016 and 2017 and found increasing homogeneity of talent across events. For instance, the Boston Calling Music Festival shared 40% of its lineup with New York’s Governors Ball, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, and California’s Coachella, which prompted Pitchfork to described Boston Calling as the least unique of the nation’s top 19 festivals. Another example was OutKast, which headlined more than 40 festivals in 2014, including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Summerfest, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits.
Events like the Vans Warped Tour (due to call it quits after its 2019 edition), Lollapalooza, and the now defunct Edgefest used to be massive, multi-city summer tours. Now, every major market and even smaller cities host a music festival, but there’s not a lot of differentiation when it comes to their identities or lineups. And that has prompted discussions around industry saturation.
Having the support of a large production company is a huge help, but it may also come at the cost of content diversity. Bonnaroo founders pointed this out: “We lost a bit of that curatorial vision that characterized Bonnaroo in the past. So we’re openly discussing how we get that back.”
Live Nation, however, has now bought the remaining minority share of Bonnaroo, ending the founders’ role in the event.
The Rise of Boutique Festivals
While many major music festivals are folding, some are successfully morphing into smaller versions of themselves. And other more niche events are also thriving.
Curation is at the heart of boutique festivals, and this trend is clearly on the rise.
Generally speaking, boutique events are smaller, more independent, and more intimate. They boast a more distinct lineup and identity, and they often focus on an exclusive genre. They also involve community integration, which is not often seen in massive music festivals.
Tramlines Festival, Riot Fest, Essence Festival, and Desert Hearts Festival have all gone this route. Newport Folk Festival organizers made the transition to a non-profit in 2008 when they decided to scale down. They now avoid acts that play at larger festivals, focus on diversity, and include regional artists as a part of their lineup.
For its part, Republic Live put their popular WayHome Music & Arts Festival on hold to focus on country music with the Boots and Hearts Festival. It also added a new event, Big Sky, which showcases country music legends.
Artists are also moving away from mainstream festivals and creating their own events where they can assert total control over the concept and content.
These events vary greatly in shape and size. Some use large venues. Others use art galleries. Some are completely independent. Others are produced by large and established players. The common thread is artist curation, the joint efforts of like-minded artists, and, quite often, a mix of various forms of art, from visual installations to poetry.
There has also been an explosion of events such as the Eaux Claires Festival (Bon Iver, The National), Posty Fest (Post Malone), Camp Flog Gnaw (Tyler, The Creator), OVO Fest (Drake), Cal Jam (Foo Fighters), Punk In Drublic (NOFX), the Solid Sound Festival (Wilco & Jeff Tweedy), the Homecoming/MusicNow Festival (The National), the High Water Festival (Shovels & Rope), and even a revival of the Summersault Tour, founded by Our Lady Peace in 1998.
Events like Post Malone’s Posty Fest have showed surprisingly strong sales. Despite not announcing an official lineup, they sold out in two hours. Eaux Claires, the festival created by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and by Aaron Dessner of The National, also didn’t announce their 2018 lineup until the start of the festival.
The appeal of these events is the conviction fans have in the artists’ taste in music. And there is an inherent financial advantage to gathering friends from other groups rather than entering into a bidding war to secure a big headliner. According to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, “It’s not just having bands come, play their sets, and get a paycheck […] These sorts of friendly deals are standard among artist-curated events and a testament to the common desire to reimagine the festival experience.” Drake’s OVO Festival in Toronto, for instance, relies on artists from his own label, which results in lower talent fees.
But the revenue model for festivals is still uncertain, as some of the more indie projects are also losing money.
However, despite their volatility, festivals should be attracting the attention of sponsors, who could use the events to engage directly with artists, allowing them to reach fans and festivalgoers alike through an authentic partnership.
Some smaller events are underfunded from a sponsorship perspective, which may present an opportunity for brands to pay less than they would at larger festivals. And while long-term agreements can be risky, they may protect sponsors against a hike in rights fees due to a potential increase in demand.
While founding artists might not be open to brand presence, there could be a strong opportunity for co-creation if brands understand both the event and the audience before they attempt to craft a partnership. For instance, through its partnership with Eaux Claires, IKEA promoted its initiative to increase product quality alongside a decreased carbon footprint.
But, when it comes down to it, partnerships with music festivals have to be about the experience.